In our inaugural Investor Spotlight series, we’re featuring investor, advisor and seasoned board director, Brenda Irwin, the Managing Partner and Co-Founder at Relentless Pursuit Partners, which focuses on investing in businesses that promote healthy, active living in a connected world.
What made you decide to become an investor, and how did you get your start?
I didn’t plan on becoming an investor, I was told to become one.
I took my MBA at the University of British Columbia as a transition strategy from a career as a science teacher. During my time there, I interned for my professor, Raffi Amit. My career as an investor started because Raffi saw something in me that he wanted to see in the industry — and I trusted him. He convinced me to fly from Hong Kong—where I was finishing my MBA— to Vancouver to take the interview. I had to ask my HKUST classmate Steven to tutor me about venture capital before the interview because I had no idea where it fit within the world of finance. It was terrifying.
As investors, what unique perspectives do you think women bring to the table?
It’s simple: our brains are wired differently and therefore we listen and process differently. This fundamental, physiological uniqueness translates into different approaches to problem solving, strategic positioning, negotiation tactics, recruiting methods, which creates a resource for entrepreneurs and co-investors that is untouchable by male counterparts.
What are some common pitfalls that you see from women entrepreneurs who are looking for funding?
There’s discomfort with self-promotion so they undersell themselves. They’ll also undercapitalize, being too conservative about the amount of funding they need to raise.
Often times, they’ll allow too many external influencers to sway their plan. It’s important that entrepreneurs develop an ability to seek guidance and mentorship without losing sight of the mission.
What is some advice that you would give to women who are thinking about investing in early stage companies?
First and foremost, research due diligence process and develop your own due diligence plan. Avoid piggy backing on experienced investors and define a personal strategy to formalize an investment rationale.
Practice pitching to your own investment committee (spouse, family, trusted circle of friends) — get used to rationalizing your investment decision out loud and allow yourself to be challenged.
Put your reason for investing in writing. Just like journal entries often provide clarity of thought, writing out a structured investment rationale will help mitigate the risk with early stage investing – an essential starting tool for new investors.
What’s the best advice you received when you started?
I was told by one of the most successful female entrepreneurs in British Columbia, Julia Levy, that I would be judged by the company I kept. In other words, not all money, angel to institutional, is worth taking.
I was building a syndicate for a new deal in my first year of investing and had a very deep pocketed angel investor want into the deal I was leading. He was known to be a bully. I trusted Julia and I was patient about building a syndicate. I boxed him out and was still able to fill the round. He was FURIOUS.
And the worst?
“Hold your position. It’s too early to sell.” My gut told me differently. My gut was right.